Analysis: Ga. high school dropout problem nearly twice as bad as earlier reported

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ATLANTA — Nearly twice as many students dropped out of Georgia schools than were earlier reported, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The dramatic change in numbers happened because the federal government is forcing states to apply stricter standards when measuring the graduation rate. But the newspaper also found that the discrepancy stemmed from a failure to accurately measure how many students were quitting.

Documents obtained under the state’s open records law showed that 30,751 students left high school without a diploma in the class of 2011. That is nearly double the 15,590 dropouts that were earlier reported. Under a new formula, the state’s graduation rate dropped from nearly 81 percent to about 67 percent, one of the country’s lowest.

There are several reasons for the change. This year, the federal government is making states use stricter standards when calculating graduation rates. For example, the new formula only counts graduates who earn their diplomas in four years. Students who earn a degree in a longer period are not counted in the graduate rate.

It also appears that schools generally assumed that students who left had simply transferred to another school, even if there was no evidence to support that. In general, students were only counted as dropouts if they formally declared they were quitting. The new formula forces officials to count students who leave as dropouts unless there is evidence they enrolled elsewhere.

Education experts have long suspected that Georgia’s graduation rates were too high. School districts had faced pressure under the federal No Child Left Behind law. To comply, Georgia committed to increasing graduation rates by 5 percentage points annually until reaching a perfect graduation rate by 2014.

The statewide graduation rate reached 80 percent in 2010, but it has fallen since.

“They spent more time trying to fix the numbers than they did trying to fix the problem,” said Cathy Henson, an advocate for education reform and former state Board of Education chair. “My frustration is that, if you’re giving people phony data, then they don’t understand the magnitude, the urgency of the problem.”

Former State School Superintendent Kathy Cox said some districts may have undercounted dropouts.

“Some of this is catching people who were probably deliberately messing with the system, and some of this is catching what probably is just bad record-keeping,” Cox said, speaking about the statistics.

Current schools chief John Barge denied the figures showed system-wide manipulation.

“I can’t say that a system was or wasn’t fudging the numbers,” he said. “Do I think there is large-scale people wanting to manipulate the system? I really don’t think so.”

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 08/20/12 - 09:10 am
Strict Standards

If one applies logic to the situation, one sees that there is no surprise.

We have been told that the No Child Left Behind strategy is to increase accountability by insisting that school systems teach curriculum that meets standards, and that the standards are to increase a little bit each year. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you make school harder each year, that the marginal students will make worse grades as the standards get stricter.

If you are making worse grades each year, if school is a bigger struggle mentally each year, more students will drop out. Many decided during the summer just not to show back up. They don't tell the school system, they just don't show up.

There should be no shame attached to a 16, 17, or 18 year old who decides it is in his best interest to quit school. School is a privilege, and it shouldn't be a prison.

Likewise, there should be no penalty applied to a school that has a high drop-out rate. A high drop-out rate shows that the school is getting better by raising their standards.

It's all logical.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 08/20/12 - 09:19 am
Federal Meddling

From the story:

This year, the federal government is making states use stricter standards when calculating graduation rates. For example, the new formula only counts graduates who earn their diplomas in four years. Students who earn a degree in a longer period are not counted in the graduate rate.

I think this is a boneheaded rule. Who cares whether a student gets his diploma in four years or whether it takes five? The diploma is just as valid.

lfrickey 11/16/12 - 12:15 am
Identifying students at risk of dropping out

The bottom line is any student who does not graduate is a travesty as earning a high school diploma is a life-changing event! We can give our at-risk students a voice to reach out for support.
We need to tap into the reasons "why" a student becomes disengaged and provide
interventions to support students to reengage or increase engagement to pursue an educational

I have been a teacher for 28 years and I’ve developed a tool I would like to
share with schools, the Scale of Student Engagement/Disengagement (SOS
ED), on which students respond to specific items that are converted into an
engagement score. In a research study in conjunction with a university,
the SOS ED was reliable and valid in identifying student engagement
levels and successful when used to identify students at risk of graduating
from high school. The SOS ED provides students with a voice when asked the
right questions. This in turn provides the specifics related to the student supports needed to stay in school.

Please visit my website and check out the video explaining the SOS ED.

For further questions, please

email me at:

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